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Chapter 1

By the time, Journalist Keith Zhu is 18 years old, he decides to write a short serialized novel, Breaking Through, reflecting on his life experience. Zhu wants to show his background and his dream through this novel, the unique points of his life and also the depression he had on the road to achieving his goal.

The show ends and the opera actors come up to stage, step forward and take a bow. The finely dressed audience stands up while their claps reverberate inside the hall adorned with those golden Renaissance-era decorations. The giant chandelier, hand-carved reliefs and innumerable oil paintings down each side wall diffuse the atmosphere filling Her Majesty’s Theatre in downtown London.

Keith Zhu

Feather staff Keith Zhu reminisces his time spent in London over the course of the summer.

It was long-expected to enjoy The Phantom Of The Opera. The story of this musical is more about knowing whether one should let go when someone they love finds more than someone’s possessiveness of beloved. As the opera phantom releases Kristin, he fades back into his underground maze, leaving with a mask and a cloak left on Kristin’s hands.

The phantom’s appearance reflects my own self. On the road I have trodden and I too wish to leave something, even if it is only a gossamer-like trace that would propitiate me with the musical, incarnated as reality. And it empathizes everyone’s life. The minutiae of the play have suffused in our whole life, as does Kristin’s sentimental line rendered: “That voice which calls to me, and speaks my name.” At such moment, tears geyser.

The show never ceases to impress, as people leave Her Majesty’s Theatre, walking slowly, still tasting, chewing, mulling over each piece of this musical. We feel a degree of felicity, which has been shown on our homely smile of contentment and musing over life.

This is a scene meant to take place on London’s streets at night. The style matches: England is this place where gives people the feeling of the ambivalence between relief and depression, existing simultaneously.

I am more than fortunate in taking a step into this imaginary land now, with my understanding of the world fully developed; I don’t want to forget any of the moments I’ve spent here; those moments are the most remarkable and incredible of the summer of my most ornate, youthful age — 18. — Keith Zhu

We leave the theatre, exposed under the glorious canopied sky beneath which the tawny fog stretches. I like being in the city when the air is so thick and opaque, with a drizzle of rain that wets the hair, but that we scarcely notice, as soaking and drenching in our memories and feelings of tonight. A black vintage car turns and passed us, I can see its brassy beam, looming out from the rain, I can see the trace of the wheel left on the road as I turn my head while it passes by me. I leave my footprints on the ground as we are walk forward.

“It is sad to leave London,” I said. Even walking down a brightly light street of the most pulsating nightlife in the town could not propitiate me or allow to forget that I am only staying here for one more week. Somehow I’ve learned peace exists here, right by the carnival because it is about knowing how to be content and to relax.

Keith Zhu

Taking National Rail to London Blackfriars is Zhu’s daily routine.

Once upon a time, an epiphany flashed through the mind of my friend Robin while he was sitting under a tree in Hyde Park; this flipped the magnet within him to the right pole for him to attach himself to London. My memories here are fresh, as hypnotic as Adele’s songs, captivating and genuine; the tranquility of London cannot find itself in any other place.

Every morning, taking the national rail from King’s Cross St.Pancras via Farringdon and City Thameslink to London Blackfriars is my daily routine. I can see the Shard and the Tower Bridge from the bridge station once out of the train. A sense of happiness washes over, from the matinal breath of the Thames River under feet, it fills with tons of the motivation to learn and improve, to start a brand new day. Later, immersed in the friendship, laughing, sitting outside a pub in a bustling alley, yelling cheers, for health, let the 9 p.m.’s sunset glow wave goodbye to this another day.

“We just don’t want to leave this kind of life.” My Italian friend Even shows me I am an emotional wreck. Even was right. An Italian from Milan would say that London is a place that makes people want to stay and come back again; even more, so that I live in the countryside of California’s Central Valley.

“She Sitteth In The Tawny Vapour

Ineffable’s Art To The Minutiae

Hath Much Of Me Not Been Devoured

Recollection’s Art The Tableau Vivant

Fare Thee Well

Shall We Meet Again”

She here refers to London, the city of fog; the buildings are built in tawny-colored. Robin wrote this poem to make the promise that he will come back again, predestinate, setting an appointment with himself and the city. Then his plane took off and flew away, with its jet tail remaining in the endless blue sky.

Where is my trace I have left behind?

Robin left this fallen, beloved city with a promise: to come back again. The phantom of the opera left his beloved Kristin with a mask as a token of remembrance. Even left London, but Even has a place to belong, unlike me, I am a gypsy. On the road I have trodden on, I wished to leave something, even one single gossamer-like trace would propitiate me, satisfy me with the approaching of the end of summer, convince me that I had done something beyond wasting time.

Keith Zhu

By the age of 18, Zhu has traveled to 20 countries around the world.

I am more than fortunate in taking a step into this imaginary land now, with my understanding of the world fully developed; I don’t want to forget any of the moments I’ve spent here; those moments are the most remarkable and incredible of the summer of my most ornate, youthful age — 18.

Eventually, I left London and proceeded to my next challenge – Wharton‘s summer course. Where is the trace I have left there? Is it diffused in the sky? What do I, an 18-year-old, have left in the world? I’ve traveled to 20 countries, including Hong Kong and Macao, but how many memorable moments remain in my head? How many people I have met would remember my face years later? How much have I learned? And by how much have I improved?

I was searching for those answers. After I finished my courses at Wharton, I traveled to Paris, but the moment the airplane touched down on the runway at Charles de Gaulle, a message from the heaven seemed to place in my head: “Go back.”

I stepped onto a Eurostar to London on my second day of being in Paris, and returned back to Paris at the end of the same day.

I walked the same way as I have done before. This town still kept up its medieval countenance, exuding a vintage atmosphere, sprawling out to every corner. This elegance makes me want to drench in London all over again at this very moment. My memories were fresh. I repeated my daily routine once, allowing my soul to be permeated with London as I walked again.

I like it in the city when two worlds collide

That day, the need to stay passed. The meaning of an ending is getting ready for the next journey. I realized that things never change but people are always changing. Just like having a different feeling in the same town as I went back again.

Keith Zhu

Zhu watches the sunset retreat behind the Shard(left tallest), tower bridge(middle), Thames River(middle).

Looking around, I saw that London was still flourishing, the way the sun is still above the British Empire. I appreciate that my experiences can successfully guide me to attain the life I want, untrammeled and cosmopolitan, and I am having it now, living with happiness and my eyes wide open.

I remember the boy who kept repeating Adele’s “When We Were Young” on his last night as a seventeen-year-old. The minutiae of The Phantom of the Opera saturated his trite life, as did Adele’s sentimental line — “I’m so mad I’m getting old, it makes me reckless. It was just like a movie; it was just like a song.”

I don’t know how many days I am entitled to altogether, and it may be that becoming an adult came so fast that I was not even ready for it, but in any case, my quota of days is undoubtedly wearing away. I came to this world stark naked, will I go back as stark naked as ever, I wondered.

Not so, I am meant to be amazing.

Read more about Zhu’s past summer journeys click, Student visits moonscape in Eurasia.

For more columns, read COLUMN: Learning from losing.

Keith Zhu can be reached via email at Keith Zhu.

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